Writing about Titus Andronicus in 1948, the scholar John Dover Wilson bemoaned how Shakespeare’s bloodiest play “seems to jolt and bump along like some broken-down cart, laden with bleeding corpses from an Elizabethan scaffold, and driven by an executioner from Bedlam.” You couldn’t say the same for Gangs of London. AMC’s newest British crime drama is replete with violence, slathering on the carnage like so much frosting on a cake, but its excess is intentional and its pacing exquisite. This is not your grandmother’s murder mystery, or even a contemporary riff on the rock-and-roll machismo of Peaky Blinders. Rather, Gangs of London exists on a fully realized plane of its own, where brutality is power, death is inevitable, and even the pigeons are on cocaine.
I love it. I cannot get enough of this show, in which an undercover cop might lay out eight gangsters using a single pub dart, or a meat cleaver might dance back and forth between two rivals’ faces like Siegfried in Swan Lake. The reason isn’t the violence per se, although Gangs of London—co-created by the director Gareth Evans (The Raid)—exists in the same kind of heightened video-game universe as John Wick, in which the fight scenes are choreographed for total immersion and the set pieces never stop. It’s more that, after a few years of sludgily plotted streaming shows, watching a series whose pace and structure are meticulously arranged feels revelatory. Each episode has its emotional realization, its intensely calamitous battle, its twist. The question of who has the most power is constantly and thrillingly in flux.